Background to the Mediterranean diet

Why is Mediterranean diet recommended?


The Mediterranean diet has the strongest evidence base as an intervention for the reduction of cardiovascular events, increasing lifespan, and for healthy aging. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not based upon a southern French or Spanish diet. It was conceived from studies performed in the mid-20th century. These demonstrated that residents of the Crete, Greece, and southern Italy had a low incidence of cardiovascular disease and higher than average life expectancy.

It was thought that their health might be due to their diet. However, it is worth considering that there were other possible factors at work in these communities beyond the food itself. For example, there are positive social aspects of multiple family members eating meals together (reducing loneliness, increasing social support, etc). Daily physical activity was also usual in these communities. These might also contribute to the beneficial effects which have been attributed to the food.

The diet in Crete around that time was different to a modern western diet. There was much less red meat and moderate-to-high fish consumption. Fat came mostly from olive oil and there were lots more vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. It was primarily a plant-based diet with smaller portions of meat, although up to 4 eggs per week were included.  When red meat was used it came from game such as rabbits, rather than beef or lamb. Dairy, and red wine, were also consumed in small or modest portions.


The principle components of Mediterranean diet typical consists of:

·       Low intake of meat, other animal products, and simple carbohydrates (sugars)

·       Plentiful fresh fruit & vegetables;

·       Olive oil as the major fat source;

·       Legumes (eg broad beans);

·       Grains;

·       Tree nuts;

·       Aromatic spices and herbs;

·       Frequent intake of fish and shellfish;

·       Moderate consumption of wine (particularly red wine) with meals